Vauxhall's VXR moniker has a relatively short history that began with the launch of the VXR220 Turbo in 2004. Since then, various models have been created, including the previous generation Astra VXR, which garnered the top spot on the company's power podium at the time, delivering its 238bhp through its front wheels with enough zest to tear the steering wheel from an unsuspecting driver's hands.
Now, with the launch of the new Astra VXR, Vauxhall is upping the stakes yet again with even more power -- 276bhp and 400Nm worth of torque to be precise -- whilst adding a shot of refinement its predecessor lacked.
With the UK the biggest market for the Astra VXR, competition against serious contenders such as the Ford Focus ST, Volkswagen Golf R and Renaultsport Megane 265 is fierce. The VXR's got its work cut out for it. So how does it fare?
Vauxhall, Ford and VW are in perpetual battle to become king of the C-segment hill. The companies constantly vie for the best performance, refinement or equipment, but there's little debate in our office that the Astra VXR trumps the competition spectacularly in the looks department.
Low, wide and mean, the VXR has taken the already beautiful Astra GTC design and added even more aggression. Riding 10mm lower than the GTC, the car looks menacing with revised bumpers, 19-inch wheels filling out its flared arches, side skirts, and an aerodynamic roof spoiler to add downforce. There are also LED rear lamps and dual exhaust outlets nestled on either side of the rear diffuser.
The VXR's ground hugging stance can be further accentuated through an optional Aero Pack (£995), which was fitted to our test car. This adds a body-coloured grille insert; more pronounced side skirts; two-tier rear spoiler and 20-inch lightweight forged alloys.
For all of the power on tap the VXR remains as practical as its GTC sibling. The cabin is spacious and the boot can accommodate 380 litres of kit, growing to 765 litres with the rear seat backs folded. And if you cram things up to the roof you'll fit 1,165 litres of stuff behind the front seats -- not bad at all.
The backs eats are usable by normal people, not just children. A 5' 9" humanoid will fit comfortably in the back seat even with a 6' 4" occupant in the front. Access to the back seat is also relatively simple.
Performance & Handling
The first generation Astra VXR was a proper hot hatch, but it was far less controlled than its rivals, with rampant torque steer, a turbo that was notable for throwing its occupants back into the seat when the boost kicked in, and a chassis that left much to be desired.
Vauxhall's engineers have addressed all of these issues in the latest iteration. The HiPerStrut suspension -- a revised offering from the brilliant UK-tuned setup in the lesser GTC -- is perfectly up to the task of keeping the VXR on the road and on the right side of a hedge. Paired with a communicative chassis and Vauxhall's motorsport-derived mechanical limited-slip differential, the system does well to keep the wheels in contact with the road, though it's settings (30% stiffer than the GTC's) proved unforgiving at times.
The mechanical differential is simply brilliant at alleviating torque steer, though we were thankfully still able to extract some. We say thankfully because it's nice to feel 276bhp through your hands whilst gripping the steering wheel. It makes you feel alive and reminds you you're in a hot hatch. The car accurately follows your chosen line through corners whilst you're on the throttle rather than drifting off with understeer -- a typical drawback with high-powered front drive cars.
Standard FlexRide adaptive damping features two modes besides the Normal setting. These can be summoned through two buttons, one marked 'Sport' and the other 'VXR' – the latter changing the instrument colour lighting to red to further emphasise its sportier bent. The Sport mode stiffens the dampers whilst the VXR mode further hardens the suspension and also sharpens the throttle response. As the car is tuned for performance from the outset, these additional settings proved subtle enough to be overlooked – it's always a VXR no matter what switch you flick.
That said, you'll never feel as if there are 276 raging broncos preparing to spontaneously explode from under the bonnet – the VXR is more subtle than that. There is no turbo lag to be felt and the car pulls strongly from very low revs. It's quick off the line and climbs through the rev range steadily and rapidly.
Once you're committed and travelling down straights at breakneck speed, it's reassuring to feel the large Brembo brakes scrubbing off momentum before you plunge into a corner. They are remarkably effective and offer a progressive feel even though the pedal isn't as hard as you might expect.
In all, it's a very capable and drivable car, but in the quest towards adding an ethereal quality to the driving experience engineers have tuned the exhaust note to recreate the fast and furious noise of its predecessor. It sounds artificial -- more hairdryer than jet-like -- when standing on the right pedal. It's quiet when you want it to be, though. If you're sensible, you can cruise around in a civilised manner.
Economy & Environment
Vauxhall claims fairly decent figures for fuel economy (34.9mpg in the combined cycle) and the car spews out 189g/km of CO2, but in our experience economy was dismal. We barely managed 20mpg, largely due to our hoon-like, rather than conservative, driving style. This, we feel, gives a more accurate view of the car's real world efficiency. It's probably the way most owners will be driving given the opportunity. Though there are larger, thirstier engines that will see you visiting the petrol station far more often, this clearly isn't the car for environmentalists.
Equipment & Value
The Astra VXR is well equipped and features low mounted side bolstered sports seats (which set the driving position 17mm lower than the GTC). That aside, the cabin remains largely unchanged from the GTC.
Various option packs are available for those with the cash. You can add power adjustable, leather, or more supportive performance-oriented seats, better forward visibility at night and you can enhance the car's exterior appearance. Dual zone climate control, rear parking sensors, satellite navigation and an uprated Infinity sound system are also on offer. If you're inclined to tick options boxes be prepared to spend north of £30K.
Though the new VXR is a welcome change from its unruly forebear, you'll be pleased to know it comes fitted with numerous safety features should you mistakenly catapult it off the road. Beside the limited slip diff, the VXR also includes traction and stability control as well as ABS and six airbags.
The new Astra VXR is leaps and bounds better than its predecessor. It's a model of evolutionary improvement, where designers and engineers have clearly worked in perfect unison and achieved the target set out in the brief.
If you're in the market for a hot hatch, we'd strongly recommend the Astra VXR. It's got masses of power and there is now some serious, controlled, fun to be had whilst sat behind the wheel. If you're prepared to write that cheque, you can expect huge rewards in exchange.
Model tested: Vauxhall Astra VXR 2.0i Turbo
Engine: 2.0-litre 16V turbocharged four-cylinder
Acceleration: 0-60 in 5.9 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: 34.9mpg (claimed)
Emissions: 292g/km CO2